In a recent press statement, the National Social Protection Forum (NSPF), a coalition of civil society organisations, expressed astonishment at the claims made during the National Economic Council meeting (NEC) regarding the credibility of the National Social Register (NSR). The NSR, a crucial database for social protection in Nigeria, was described by the NSPF as a bottom-to-top database developed through transparent and participatory processes involving multi-sectoral stakeholders.
Since 2016, each State Governor in the country signed memorandums of understanding culminating in the establishment of the State Operations Coordinating Unit (SOCU) and State Cash Transfer Unit (SCTU) under the State Ministries of Planning and Women Affairs, respectively. The NSR’s development involved community-based targeting (CBT) processes, empowering community members to identify poor and vulnerable households, and Proxy Means Testing (PMT) to rank them based on their needs and income.
As of June 30, 2023, the NSR consists of 15,730,004 households and 62,819,214 individuals, encompassing over 8,000 Federal electoral wards, 764 LGAs, and nearly 177,421 communities across all states in Nigeria and the FCT. It is noteworthy that four million households and nine million individuals on the NSR have bank accounts and electronic wallets are used for cash transfers from various programmes that have adopted the NSR.
To ensure the credibility of the NSR, NASSCO with support from the World Bank, engaged 19 independent civil society organisations as Third-Party Monitors from October 2019 to June 2022, who used technology to verify beneficiaries through GPS coordinates and barcodes, adhering to international standards.
Despite the international recognition the NSR has garnered for its integrity and credibility, some state governors have questioned its validity, raising concerns about discarding the register. The NSPF emphasises that the decision to abandon the NSR may hamper the commitment of development partners and donors to support Nigeria in developing other relevant national data in the future.
The NSPF urges political leaders to recognise that governance is a continuum and advises state governments to interrogate the development process and address any gaps to improve upon it rather than discarding the NSR. While acknowledging the need for improvement and updates, the NSPF asserts that the NSR is a flexible register and a vital national asset that requires sustained support and cooperation from all stakeholders.
The NSR’s potential has already been acknowledged by various state-level interventions, including the National Cash Transfer Program and the FG Covid-19 Rapid Response Register Cash Transfer. International agencies and private organisations have also utilised the register for their interventions.
The NSPF concludes that the NSR is methodologically developed and has a high level of credibility, thanks to the collective efforts of community members, local and state governments. It urges stakeholders to work together to enhance the register’s effectiveness and impact on reducing poverty among vulnerable households in Nigeria.
The national coordinator, Dr Taiwo Benson, stated the need for cooperation, recognising the register’s value in achieving social protection goals and supporting the nation’s vulnerable population.